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Webchat about primary-school admission appeals with solicitor Anita Chopra, TODAY, Friday 19 April, 1pm

(89 Posts)
RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 16-Apr-13 13:25:08

We've invited Anita Chopra to join us this week for a webchat to answer questions on primary school admissions. Parents across the country will be receiving letters and emails this week with the all important news of whether or not their child has been allocated a place at their chosen primary school. If you haven't received the news you'd hoped for then Anita Chopra, a partner at Match Solicitors, a specialist education law practice, is happy to answer questions about the next steps and what can be done in these circumstances.

Anita is ranked as one of the top experts in the UK on primary school admission appeals, and is an expert in the areas of exclusions, admissions, and special educational needs and disability, acting on behalf of the parents and the children.

Anita regularly contributes to various publications including the Solicitors Journal and provides training on exclusions and admissions to Panel Members, Governing Bodies and Headteachers of Schools and Academies. In addition to this work, she is a member of the Advisory Panel for the Advocacy for Education Service as part of the National Autistic Society and ELAS (Education Law Association), and is highly involved in raising awareness of special educational needs in the UK. She was also shortlisted for Woman of the Year at the Asian Business Awards 2008.

Join Anita at 1pm on Friday 19 April or post a question in advance on this thread.

Emmaroos Fri 19-Apr-13 12:06:45

Totally frustrated. We live about 300 yards from our first (and only) choice school. 14 places were available on a distance criteria and we didn't get a place. The council says they know that some of those places have gone to families who rented for a few months (while still maintaining their family home) and who have no intention of living close to the school. The council say they aren't prepared to challenge these families because they will claim a brief separation due to marital problems and that it is impossible to prove that they are deliberately manipulating the system. Is there any way we can challenge these place allocations? Can we ask the council to check things such as whether the child was re registered at a new GP and all the other things you would do if you moved house? It's important enough to me that I'd pay an investigator, but I assume I am not entitled to the names of the children the council knows got places in this way. Is there anything at all I can do other than prepare for a year of home schooling?

Letsgetreal Fri 19-Apr-13 12:07:03

After a lot of phone calls/emails we are finally getting the information we require so advice in our particular case is not so pressing.

However it sounds like there are a number of people in the same position so happy for my question to stand as a generic enquiry if it will help others.

hunhun Fri 19-Apr-13 12:21:49

hello anita,
my child has missed out on a her school placement as the school only takes 30 children for reception classes and there were 207 applications. 22 of those places went to siblings leaving 8 places going to others under the distance criterion. we live a 5 minutes walk from this school and my daughter has now been given a school where i will have to drive her to, come back to drop the car off, then walk to the train station for an hour journey to work into the city. the school we have been given was not on our list of schools but one where there was a nearest vacancy for her. the geography is unsuitable and we obviously do not know anything about this school so far . it could mean that either my husband or myself would have to give up our fulltime jobs so that we can accomodate my daughters schooling.

The governmnet/councils have known that there is a massive problem with schooling in Barent, yet very little seems to be done. how do working parents cope? not to mention the detrimental social impact it will have on my child as she will not know anyone at this school.

WE will be on a waiting list, but again the likey hood of children declining is very low.
Shouldn't the schools put on extra classes?

Could you please advise how i should go about strengthing my appeal?

Thanking you in advance.

FrillyMilly Fri 19-Apr-13 12:22:30

We missed our choice of school by 0.02 miles. In fact we didn't get any of the 3 we picked and the one they have sent us to is going to a logistical nightmare because of childcare in place for our younger child. There is very little option for childcare at the school she has been given. We have the choice to appeal on grounds of prejudice or infant class size. What does this mean? Should the reasons you give at appeal have been put on the application?

besin Fri 19-Apr-13 12:38:19

Dear Anita,

Thank you for the opportunity to ask you a question regarding primary school admissions.

A State Primary school in Wandsworth, London (Wix) has one English class and one bilingual class. Parents have the possibility to put a preference for English or bilingual (the latter being extremely oversubscribed).

The Council states that the parents who applied for the bilingual class have no right to appeal if they have been offered a place in the English class because the Independent Appeal Panel cannot decide whether a successful appellant should be placed in the bilingual or English class.

Could you please confirm that this is correct from a legal point of view?

In fact it is a way to block parents from appealing. In the application the choice is one primary school, but in reality it is rather two choices because in the application if your first choice is for the bilingual class your second choice can be for the English class or for another school. It has to be mentioned that the huge difference between the bilingual class and the English one is that the former guarantees automatic access to an excellent secondary school (Lycee Charles de Gaulle) while the latter is absolutely normal.

Anatoliy K.

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Fri 19-Apr-13 12:56:41

Further to the above question, is such a set up (re the bilingual class) legal? Wouldn't the two classes have to have different admission criteria?

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 19-Apr-13 13:01:57

Hello all, Anita's here and going to start in a moment. Thanks to her (she's a bit poorly, so we doubly appreciate it!) and to everyone who has asked questions.

asmuili Fri 19-Apr-13 13:04:16

We live in Croydon, my DS got allocated a school more than a mile away, I don't drive so its a long walk, especially come winter, DS has asthma which can get triggered by cold and exertion. There is a school just round the corner, our 1st choice, to which almost everyone around us seems to have gotten into. We have decided to appeal.

My question is, we hadn't mentioned the asthma in the original application, should we mention it in the appeal? We can get a letter from the GP if required, will that help you reckon.

AnitaChopra Fri 19-Apr-13 13:06:54

Hi, it's Anita here from Match Solicitors. Looking forward to answering any of your questions on primary school appeals.

AnitaChopra Fri 19-Apr-13 13:11:11

meyersfan

We didn't get a place at 1st choice priority primary school for our son - he's an only child - is there any point in appealing just because we are unhappy with the decision? I don't think we've actually got any reasonable grounds for appeal.

Hi Meyersfan, thanks for your question. I'm sorry you didn't get your first choice. Parents always have a right to appeal. Some of my clients will often want to give it a try, even if I have advised them that their grounds of appeal are not so strong. Whilst these types of appeal can be very difficult - due to the limited appeal grounds allowed by the Admission Appeals Code - upon investigation it may well be that grounds can be put forward (for example, if it transpires that an error has been made by the School or Local Authority). However it is unlikely that you would have a chance of succeeding on grounds that you are unhappy with the decision.

Under the Admission Appeal Code, for infant class size appeals, if the class is at 30 pupils per school teacher, the first stage of the test that an appeal panel would look for is:

The panel must consider all the following matters:
a) whether the admission of an additional child/additional children would breach the infant class size limit;

b) whether the admission arrangements (including the area's co-ordinated admission arrangements) complied with the mandatory requirements of the School Admissions Code and Part 3 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998;

c) whether the admission arrangements were correctly and impartially applied in the case(s) in question; and

d) whether the decision to refuse admission was one which a reasonable admission authority would have made in the circumstances of the case.

The threshold for what is "reasonable" is very high - it has to be -beyond the range of responses open to a reasonable decision maker? or ?a decision which is so outrageous in its defiance of logic or of accepted moral standards that no sensible person who had applied his mind to the question could have arrived at it? Whilst I do sympathise with your position, I am afraid that your case may be unlikely to meet the allowed appeal grounds as set out above.

AnitaChopra Fri 19-Apr-13 13:12:11

gazzalw

Our two are established in primary school and secondary school respectively but we did have a real problem getting our DS (eldest) into a good primary school and that was even before the birth rates started creeping up.

My question is this: given that other Mumsnet threads imply that siblings can effectively block every single available Reception place in a school, which potentially can have a devastating knock-on effect on only and oldest siblings applying for places, is there any way one can claim discrimination? It is not a child's fault that they are an only or eldest sibling and that every school place may be already taken by siblings of children already in the school...

Thanks

Hi Gazzalw, I do understand your concerns, I have seen a number of cases, both in primary and secondary school admissions where siblings make up a great deal of the intake. I don't think that there could be a discrimination claim on the basis of sibling criteria, the admission code allows use of sibling criteria and I do not think one could formulate a discrimination claim under the equality act.

The new code gives a greater emphasis on having siblings in the same school to assist parents for logistical reasons. The only other way to try to challenge a school's admissions criteria would be to consider a complaint to the school's adjudicator, though this will have to be done for the following year's proposed admission criteria rather than the criteria for this year's intake.

Reea Fri 19-Apr-13 13:13:05

Hi Anita,
On what grounds can we appeal if we have not been allocated a place at any school? Not detailed in the letter but presumably all distance related.
Thanks

AnitaChopra Fri 19-Apr-13 13:19:31

Emmaroos

Totally frustrated. We live about 300 yards from our first (and only) choice school. 14 places were available on a distance criteria and we didn't get a place. The council says they know that some of those places have gone to families who rented for a few months (while still maintaining their family home) and who have no intention of living close to the school. The council say they aren't prepared to challenge these families because they will claim a brief separation due to marital problems and that it is impossible to prove that they are deliberately manipulating the system. Is there any way we can challenge these place allocations? Can we ask the council to check things such as whether the child was re registered at a new GP and all the other things you would do if you moved house? It's important enough to me that I'd pay an investigator, but I assume I am not entitled to the names of the children the council knows got places in this way. Is there anything at all I can do other than prepare for a year of home schooling?

Hi Emmaroos,
I totally sympathize with your situation, however it is for the local authority to carry out it's own investigations into concerns it may have regarding addresses. It is not something that you will unfortunately be able to do. Owing to data protection the council is not under any obligation to release details of the names of the children involved.

The only thing that you could do is if you are aware that a parent has obtained a school place fraudulently by using an incorrect address, you could raise this concern with your local authority.

AnitaChopra Fri 19-Apr-13 13:22:08

Fiona2011231

We only got the 2nd preference school of our child (reception class). I think I would accept the decision and hope that my child will get into the 1st choice school next year.

My question is: How can I increase my chance in the waiting list? Should I contact the council?

Thank you.

Hi Fiona

In accordance with the School Admissions Code, the school will keep the waiting list ranked in line with the published oversubscription criteria.

Priority must not be given to children based on the date their application was received or when their name was added to the list. On the face of it I cannot see how you could increase your position on the waiting list, unless there was a material change in circumstance that meant you would move up the list in accordance with their oversubscription criteria (such as moving house).

AnitaChopra Fri 19-Apr-13 13:28:23

Januarymadness

Hello and thanks in advance.

We have just found out Dd didnt get in to the place we wanted her to go. She has been allocated a place at a much smaller infants school.

My main issue is that dd has social issues and is unable to form friendships at the moment. She has been referred to the area SENCO and SALT but her SALT appointment isnt until next month. I am concerned that asking DD to move schools at 7 (or before if we waitlist her) will be a nightmare socially when she is already having severe difficulties and is going to need structure and continuity. Are these valid grounds for appeal?

Thank you again.

Hi Januarymadness,

I'm sorry to hear that DD didn't get into your first choice school. It would be worth appealing on the grounds that you mention relating to her social needs and learning difficulties. Much will depend on how much evidence of this was presented with your original application form.

If your evidence was extensive, there could be an argument to raise that not giving you your first choice of school could be considered 'unreasonable', i.e. the decision to refuse admission was one which a reasonable admission authority would not have made in the circumstances of the case.

On an aside, you may wish to have DD's learning difficulties assessed through the statutory assessment process. I also specialize in the area of special educational needs and would be happy to discuss this further with you.

AnitaChopra Fri 19-Apr-13 13:33:27

GreenEggsAndNaiceHam

My daughter did not get into the voluntary aided c of e school that we expected her to get into. We fulfilled the criteria for church attendance and had the supplementary form signed as such. We think a mistake has been made as we know other children have received a place at the school under the church criteria. They live further away than us, so if all church places have been filled we would have got a place over them.

If I find out that we have been placed on the lower ranking distance criteria, rather than the higher ranking church criteria, what do I do? Would I need to appeal or would the va school / borough say a mistake had been made a give us a place anyway. The school will be oversubscribed, there will be 30 in the class , possibly/ probably twins

Hi GreenEggsAndNaiceHam - yours is a potentially interesting one. In my experience it can often be easier to find potentially decent and arguable appeal grounds for Faith Schools, often simply because their criteria can be quite complex and leave more scope for error.

There are a number of questions we could ask of the school in order to try and get the information to see if an error has been made, or if we can build a case to argue they have wrongly categorised your application. If it transpires that a clear error has been made which, had it not been made, would have led to a place being offered, we could try and write to them to see if they will amend this now and provide a place.

However it may well be that they don't and the matter has to go to a hearing, in which case we would very strongly be able to argue the case under the ground that: the admission arrangements were not correctly and impartially applied and the child would have been offered a place if the arrangements had complied or had been. I would definitely advise investigating further - I am happy to discuss this with you separately.

AnitaChopra Fri 19-Apr-13 13:37:27

besin

Dear Anita,

Thank you for the opportunity to ask you a question regarding primary school admissions.

A State Primary school in Wandsworth, London (Wix) has one English class and one bilingual class. Parents have the possibility to put a preference for English or bilingual (the latter being extremely oversubscribed).

The Council states that the parents who applied for the bilingual class have no right to appeal if they have been offered a place in the English class because the Independent Appeal Panel cannot decide whether a successful appellant should be placed in the bilingual or English class.

Could you please confirm that this is correct from a legal point of view?

In fact it is a way to block parents from appealing. In the application the choice is one primary school, but in reality it is rather two choices because in the application if your first choice is for the bilingual class your second choice can be for the English class or for another school. It has to be mentioned that the huge difference between the bilingual class and the English one is that the former guarantees automatic access to an excellent secondary school (Lycee Charles de Gaulle) while the latter is absolutely normal.

Anatoliy K.

Hi Anatoliy,

Thanks for your question. This is a particularly interesting scenario. I would need to see the admission criteria for this particular school; however, I can understand why an independent appeal panel cannot make a decision on whether a child should be placed in the bi-lingual or English class as they are not qualified to do so.

Not providing you with a right of appeal does not seem right and you could perhaps consider making a complaint to the school's adjudicator for the following year's proposed admissions criteria.

If you'd like to discuss this further please do get in touch after the webchat and I'll be happy to speak about the issue in more detail.

AnitaChopra Fri 19-Apr-13 13:40:48

notfluffy

I sit on appeals panels. I feel very frustrated that there are often children and families with very good medical/social/family reasons for attending a particular school but they are not compelling enough to allow the appeal. I have also noticed that some primary schools do not have any "social/medical" admissions criteria at all so the parents have absolutely no chance (other than the looked after children, statemented special needs etc but it is unusual to see a statemented 4 year). In infant class size appeals it is particularly difficult to find grounds to allow an appeal.

Do you think we should look again at the whole primary admissions system and find a way of taking "good" reasons for choice into consideration; of course this is subjective but surely not more so than proximity (particularly for those in social housing who have no choice) or the parents religious practices?

I am in central London by the way.

Hi notfluffy,

I understand your frustration. There are quite a few people on this forum with potentially valid social and medical reasons as to why they feel their child should attend a particular school. I personally like such criteria, though accept it leaves more scope for challenge (which makes a lawyer's life more interesting!).

I would like it if the government introduced something stronger on this into the code; however, I agree it can be difficult to find valid grounds in infant class size appeal.

AnitaChopra Fri 19-Apr-13 13:43:17

Letsgetreal

My question is this:

We got our 6th choice and the letter basically said "sorry you didnt get into your top 5 choices but we've given you a place at your 6th" with no mention of why we didnt get into any of the top 5, details of what catagory we were in, distance from the school measurement, details of what catagory and distance the last accepted child was or anything.

How do we insist on the data we need so that we can make an informed decision whether to appeal? What rights/regulations/statutes do we invoke against the council to get this information?

Any help appreciated.

Hi Letsgetreal - Schools/Local authorities can often give very scant information with the decision letters, which I agree is very unhelpful and frustrating. You are entitled to access information about the appeals. In my experience we have always just written to the admission authority to request more clarity about decisions and they have always provided it (so hopefully you will not need to quote any of the Admissions Codes at the Council). However for your information the Admission Appeal Code says:

2.5 When a local authority or an admission authority informs a parent of a decision to refuse their child a place at a school for which they have applied, it must include the reason why admission was refused; information about the right to appeal; the deadline for lodging an appeal and the contact details for making an appeal. Parents must be informed that, if they wish to appeal, they have to set out their grounds for appeal in writing. Admission authorities must not limit the grounds on which an appeal can be made.

2.9 The admission authority must supply the clerk to the appeal panel with all relevant documents needed to conduct the hearing in a fair and transparent manner and in accordance with the specified timetable. This must include details of how the admission arrangements and the co-ordinated admissions scheme apply to the appellant?s application, the reasons for the decision to refuse admission and an explanation as to how admission of an additional child would cause prejudice to the provision of efficient education or efficient use of resources.

The Admission Code also repeats that:

2.24 Right to appeal - When an admission authority informs a parent of a decision to refuse their child a place at a school for which they have applied, it must include the reason why admission was refused; information about the right to appeal; the deadline for lodging an appeal and the contact details for making an appeal. Parents must be informed that, if they wish to appeal, they must set out their grounds for appeal in writing. Admission authorities must not limit the grounds on which appeals can be made.

There is therefore a requirement to provide reasons. If the Council were very difficult one could consider referring them to your rights under the Data Protection Act and Freedom of Information Act, but I doubt you will need to. They should be very used to parents asking for information as to what categories their child was placed in, etc.

AnitaChopra Fri 19-Apr-13 13:48:15

Monadami

I'm feeling very down. I applied for six schools in order of preference in Purley, Surrey. We currently live in Shirley, Surrey (both under same Council) as we plan to move to Purley before September.

After spending much time researching schools and looking at Ofsted reports for each, it seems all my choices have been ignored and a place has been offered at one of the roughest, most run down schools in my current area, which has previously received unsatisfactory gradings by Ofsted. I explained in my applications we would be moving and there is no way I am sending my son to that school, so looking into home Tutoring until I can sort this out.

I feel very worried, not sure what to do.

Hi Mondami - I am really sorry to hear that you did not get any of your preferred schools. Whilst I agree with others that it looks very difficult as that was not your permanent address at the time, it would very much be worth a bit more investigation (i.e. what kind of evidence regarding the Purley house do you have and what was stated on your applications) to see if any argument can be made (though it may still be difficult). One would need some more detail about the facts of your case. For example, I note Croydon’s admission booklet states:

Changes of address can only be considered where Croydon local authority receives either a letter from solicitor confirming the exchange and completion of contract for the new place of residence or a copy of the new tenancy agreement stating commencement date. Croydon local authority should be notified of changes of address by 11 February 2013. Failure to do so could result in your application being considered from previous address.

Parents should also note the Code does say: Appellants do not have the right to a second appeal in respect of the same school for the same academic year unless, in exceptional circumstances, the admission authority has accepted a second application from the appellant because of a significant and material change in the circumstances of the parent, child or school but still refused admission. Thus you could potentially also reapply once you are in your new place.

I'd be happy to discuss further - I have done a similar case not too long ago and we managed to succeed in getting the child admitted.

AnitaChopra Fri 19-Apr-13 13:49:56

lucylou2311

Would love your advice. Applied for eldest, for 5 of the nearest schools and was offered one that is 1 mile away, not on our list, that is 13th closest primary school. It is practically failing school, in an estate, is not somewhere we could walk to. Do we have grounds to appeal? I will get on as many waiting lists as poss but they are oversubscribed. I can't bear the thought of him going there and also his little brother. I wouldn't mind supporting a local school that needed to improve but this is no where near my community. Thanks.

Hi lucylou2311,

I am sorry to hear that you didn't get any of your choices for your eldest. It is always worth appealing; however, it is important that your appeal focuses on the reasons why your child should be given a place at the school of your choice that you are appealing for, rather than why he shouldn't go to the school that he has been offered a place at.

The law surrounding infant class size appeals is quite rigid, and thus makes it harder to succeed on appeal unless one of the following can be established:

a) Whether the admission of an additional child would breach the child class size limit.

b) Whether the admissions arrangements complied with the mandatory requirements of the Code and part 3 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.

c) Whether the admissions arrangements were correctly and impartially applied in the case in question.

d) Whether the decision to refuse admission was one which a reasonable admission authority would have made in the circumstances of the case.

This can get quite complicated, so we'd be happy to discuss this further with you after the webchat.

AnitaChopra Fri 19-Apr-13 13:52:38

FrameyMcFrame

Dear Anita...we missed out on first second and third choice schools by 0.2, 0.1 and 0.3 of a mile sad

Now left with school where one of the teachers harassed me through my job (nothing to do with the school)... I only discovered she worked at the school AFTER we applied. No doubt my reasons for not wanting this school will not be accepted.
The LEA won't even give us info on where we stand on waiting list places.

Please help!!!!

Hi FrameyMcFrame,

I'm sorry that you missed out by such narrow margins, have you double checked the distances they stated are correct? (A long shot I know, but I have seen local authorities make errors before).

Unfortunately, I fear the teacher issue will not be sufficient to meet the legal tests for a valid appeal. The local authority for the school, depending on the type, must provide you with waiting list information, therefore you should ask for this without delay.

AnitaChopra Fri 19-Apr-13 13:56:24

Michelle1984

Hi,

Please can I have some advice I have been offered a place for my child reception class at Hackbridge school, I never even considered this school when i viewed 10 others as i considered this too far. My question is can i appeal on the distance and personal hardship? This school is too far away for me and I am quite shocked i have received it considering there are so may others close by, I also think i mis-understood the form and only put 3 options I didn't think they could give me 1 so far away. There is no direct public transport to this school from my house and is too far to expect my child to walk, it would also massively effect my working hours and I cannot afford additional childcare. any help would be appreciated smile

Hi Michelle1984 - I'm afraid it could be very difficult to appeal on those grounds if it is an infant class size appeal. Whilst the Panel will likely sympathise, sadly, and it is something I see very often, distance and personal hardship will not meet the appeal grounds. If it is not an infant class size appeal then you could try and appeal on personal hardship grounds - i.e. the prejudice caused to your child is greater than the prejudice that would be caused to the school by taking on another pupil.

AnitaChopra Fri 19-Apr-13 13:58:04

tiggytape

Similar question to gazza about discrimination where the admissions criteria is perfectly legal:

Academies set their own admissions criteria. Most academies choose to follow the traditional system giving siblings and children with special medical needs priority.
Some academies however have chosen to drop this medical needs category. Therefore children with a genuine and documented medical need to attend just one particular school may not be allocated a place at that school unless they have a statement.

These children are told the appeal process exists to correct this but that seems to be the wrong way round.
How is it not classed as discrimination for a child with a recognised disability but no statement to be blocked from having their needs met by the only school able to meet those needs (in the opinion of the parents and the medical professionals involved with the child)?

The laws on reasonable adjustment and ensuring disabled pupils are not disadvantaged seem at odds with rules that allow some schools to give no consideration to disability at all when allocating places. If it helps, the disabilities I am particularly referring to involve mobility and motor control issues impacting on ability to travel to school and to move around schools of differing layouts eg use stairs.

Hi tiggytape,

Thanks for your question - it is quite a complex one to address on this brief forum; however, the admissions process, including the consideration of the appeal panel, must be compliant with the equality act. Thus they cannot unlawfully discriminate.

Depending very much on the nature of your evidence and what was submitted at the time of your original application, I could see a potentially interesting argument to be made that the admission arrangements were not properly applied, or the decision to refuse admission was one which a reasonable admissions authority would have made in the circumstances of the case.

It might make for a ground of appeal worth putting forward. I would be happy to discuss this in more detail outside of the forum if you wanted to.

AnitaChopra Fri 19-Apr-13 14:03:48

tethersend

I'd like to know if it could be seen as discriminatory to place a looked after child as lower priority than other children (ie parents) who practise the religion of the school.

I work with looked after children- some schools require children to be baptised within six months of birth, and make no exception for children who have been removed from their parents due to abuse or neglect.

Could it be argued that this practice is discriminatory?

Hi tethersend,

I agree that this seems unfair. Unfortunately the Code only says:

"Where any element of priority is given in relation to children not of the faith, they must give priority to looked after children, and previously looked after children, not of the faith above other children not of the faith"

A discrimination claim is unlikely to succeed; however, it is definitely an issue that can warrant some consideration to see if a creative argument can be brought.

It is important to note that faith schools are entitled to positively discriminate by virtue of their status, i.e. that it is a faith school.

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